Wisdom can come from unlikely places, and no where is that more obvious than reading through B’nai B’rith’s Enlighten America Essay Contest entries. Recently, three winners, Anna Schwartz and Aiden Robinson from Woodward Academy, and Jackson Weatherill from Temple Kol Emeth, were honored for their essays.
The essay contest has been in B’nai B’rith International’s archive for more than 15 years, but a few years ago, Art Link was the first to bring it locally to Atlanta’s Achim/Gate City Lodge, according to essay contest coordinator Vic Anapolle.
“Art passed away suddenly in the third year of the contest,” Anapolle said. “We were left with the contest in limbo, so we picked it up in his memory and sought contributions for the prize money and relaunched the program that spring.”
The competition encourages students to reflect on concepts of tolerance, equality and respect for all people, and “stresses harmony over violence and equality over prejudice.”
This year’s submissions exceeded all expectations, with more than 600 essays written, and schools selected from their entries, submitting 54 finalists to a panel of three judges.
“The schools did a pretty good job of slimming down the lists for us,” Anapolle said. “Teachers had read all the essays, and they selected the best ones from their class.”
This year’s judges were RuthE Levy, Margie Simonoff and Marcus Brodzki. Simonoff admitted that she was initially overwhelmed by the surplus of entries, as judges expected to see 10 or 12.
“As I began to read through them, I got caught up in the material and was so happy that so many youngsters were given an opportunity to reflect upon and write about this most important subject, which has such relevance in today’s world,” she said.
Levy, owner of And Thou Shalt Read bookstore, was impressed by the quality of the entries.
“It was so hard to choose a winner because there were so many good ones,” Levy said. “Congratulations to the winners and to all who participated.”
Schwartz, a seventh grader, took first place, winning $750 for herself and $500 for Woodward, with her essay, “Subconscious Biases: The Elephant in the Room.”
Weatherill, also in seventh grade, took second for a $500 prize with his essay, “Diversity,” and eighth-grader Robinson took third for $250, with “Am I Safe?”
The two Woodward students, Schwartz and Robinson, received their awards on May 23 in front of their peers. Weatherill was recognized at Kol Emeth during Shabbat services May 24.
Anapolle explained that reaching students at this age was an important feature of the essay contest.
“They’re still forming their own thoughts and behaviors,” he said. “So we want to point out these issues at that age, and that really is our target. We want to see them figuring out how to address these issues.”
To read the winning essays, visit www.bit.ly/2I2r3If.